OK, the winter meetings begin in San Diego tomorrow. And there are quite a few compelling story lines to be played out there, even if the Pirates are likely to pass on the early action.
First, Jon Lester is expected to make his move soon, starting the scramble for Max Scherzer (his agent, Scott Boras, will want Lester's contract as a reference) and James Shields. When they go, the second tier guys like Frankie Liriano, Ervin Santana and Brandon McCarthy can make their money, along with 2-B pitchers like Eddie Volquez and Jason Hammel. Bullpen ace Dave Roberson is available, too, along with Sergio Romo and Pat Neschek.
An interesting sidebar to the pitcher sweepstakes is the number of really solid guys that have been dangled on the market because they're a year away from free agency, hurlers like Jordan Zimmermann, David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister and Mat Latos. Cole Hamels is in the mix, with four years and $90M left on his contract. Someone looking for a piece to put them over the top this season may bite. At any rate, if it's arms you want, arms we've got - if the price is right.
Pitching isn't the only game in town. A couple of position players are free agents and will be shopping their wares in sunny California. Chase Headley and Melky Cabrera are the cream of what's left after Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Nelson Cruz, Russ Martin, Victor Martinez, Nick Markakis, Adam LaRoche and Yasmany Tomas all went off the board.
That leaves FOs casting their shiny baubles into the wind, looking for a team-building return. The Dodgers have a whole outfield of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford up for bid, along with the Braves' Justin Upton/Evan Gattis, the Red Sox's Yoenis Cespedes, San Diego's Yasmani Grandal and Oakland's Brandon Moss. In an offense-starved league, these are the kind of players that a GM can fetch a nice overpay on by dealing.
Except for the second-line pitching, the Pirates really aren't expected to do much but continue to plow the road for future dealings. They still need a top flight pitcher, and nobody seems very certain about first base, so they'll be looking at those two markets closely with a down-the-road trigger date. You can bet they'd keep their ears open if someone took a shining to Pedro.
The more interesting part will come Thursday with the Rule 5 draft. The Bucs have passed on the last two and are likely to pass on this one. But they may take a hit - Mel Rojas and Gift Ngoepe don't have the bats to contribute everyday, but both have the gloves. Rojas could profile as someone's fifth outfielder, while Ngoepe projects as a late inning defensive specialist, and there's not much lost in that spot by carrying a weak bat. Lefty Andy Oliver could be looked at as a mid-inning guy, although his wildness remains.
The Pirates are deep in outfielders, explaining Rojas' omission from the 40-man, but they're looking for a reserve infielder and bullpen lefty, so apparently they don't harbor very high hopes for Ngoepe and Oliver.
So lean back and get your feet near the hot stove; it's about to fire up. There may even be an ember or two from the Bucco log, though we wouldn't count on any crackling flames quite yet.